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Drink driving

As the name suggests, drink driving is when you drive while under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol seriously impairs your awareness, your ability to react quickly and make good judgements. 

Pint and keys on a tableDriving while over the alcohol limit is illegal. You’ll be fined, gain penalty points, and potentially even lose your licence if you’re caught.

It also puts you, your passengers, other people on the roads and pedestrians at serious risk of injury, or even death.

It’s just a really bad idea. Don’t do it. Don’t let your mates do it. See alcohol for an overview on the effects.

Why do people drink and drive?

People drink and drive for a number of reasons:

  • they aren’t aware they’re drunk
  • they feel more confident after drinking and think they’re capable of driving, even though they’re really not
  • they think or hope they won’t get caught
  • after drinking too much they’re unable to make safe, responsible decisions and deal with complex problems.

What are the limits?

Under road traffic legislation, it’s illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol to the point of, or over, the legal limit.

The current legal limit is 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. This limit is even lower for learner drivers and professional drivers.

It’s 20mg per 100ml of blood. Anyone caught driving over the legal limit will face fines, penalty points, and possible driving bans and having to appear in court.

The Gardaí set up checkpoints and perform random checks and breath testing. If you refuse to take the breath test you can be fined up to €5,000 euro or go to jail for six months.

See DrinkHelp.ie for more detailed information on how alcohol impairs your abilities.

Alcohol affects people differently

Two people who drink the same amount can register quite different blood alcohol concentrations (a higher concentration being a bad thing in this context).

How you’re affected by alcohol depends on a lot of different factors, including:

  • body size – if you’re smaller you’ll have a higher blood alcohol concentration than a larger person
  • body fat – people with a lot of body fat tend to have a higher blood alcohol concentration
  • gender – sorry girls, but you’ll almost always have a higher blood alcohol concentration than a guy who drinks the same amount, which means keeping up with the boys often isn’t a great idea
  • speed of drinking – if you drink quickly the body will have a harder time trying to metabolize/remove it, and it’s likely to affect you more quickly than if you had spread the drinks out over a few hours
  • health – if you’re tired or stressed out, alcohol can affect you more quickly than usual as it actually places more stress on body systems
  • food intake before drinking – food slows down the rate at which the bloodstream absorbs alcohol
  • medication – many medications interact with alcohol, so look at the information that comes with your medication. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist for further advice as to whether you can safely combine moderate alcohol consumption with your medication
  • psychological factors – if you’re unhappy or depressed, having one or two drinks might affect you more quickly than they would if you were feeling happy.

How do you know your limit?

Since everyone is affected by alcohol differently, there’s no set number of drinks to stay under the limit.

Even if you drink a set amount on two separate occasions, you might get different blood alcohol concentration readings.

As a guide, you can now buy breath testers from some shops, so if you want an idea of how much you can drink and still be under the limit, you could test yourself after different numbers of drinks.

Keep in mind you might still get a different reading another time after drinking the same number of drinks and that these machines can be inaccurate.

Some medications, mouthwashes and foods may contain alcohol, so it’s a good idea to check labels.

For tips on controlling your drinking, see low-risk drinking.

Don’t combine alcohol with other drugs or medicines

Mixing different alcoholic drinks and drugs can increase the speed at which you get drunk and you might take more risks.

The effect it has depends on the drugs and is unpredictable. Even small amounts of alcohol consumed in combination with other drugs or medications can reduce your ability to drive.

See drugs for more information on their effects.

What are the penalties?

Penalties for drink driving range from gaining points on your licence and receiving a fine to losing your licence and going to jail, depending on how much over the limit you are.

Read the rules and regulations from the Driving School Ireland website.

How will the police test you?

Police regularly conduct random breath tests on the roads, and this can be at any time of the day, on any day of the week.

Testing can be done in a variety of ways, ranging from breath tests on the road-side to blood and urine tests if further testing is required.

Getting home

Going out and drinking as a young person is not at all uncommon, if you’re drinking be sensible about it.

Plan alternative transport for nights where you know you might be drinking. This might include:

  • public transport – preferably with a group
  • a lift with a friend who’s not drinking
  • a lift from a parent
  • a taxi.

Organise to take turns with friends to be the designated driver for the night.

If you have a friend who you suspect is over the limit and is planning to drive, organise alternative transport for them to get home and encourage them to pick their car up the next day.

Alternatively, you might decide to stay at a friend’s place rather than drive home if you’ve drunk too much.

Remember. if you’ve drunk a lot of alcohol it may still be in your system the next day, so the next morning you may still be over the limit.

Keep safe

If you’re unsure whether or not you’re over the limit and are thinking of driving, a good question to ask yourself might be: ‘Do I really want to be responsible for killing or injuring someone?’

It’s just not worth it, for you or anyone else.

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This article was last reviewed on 01 May 2017

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